January 16, 2017

Folklife Program, North Carolina Arts Council

The Folklife Program of the North Carolina Arts Council promotes public knowledge and appreciation of the state’s cultural traditions. Four strategies have evolved to achieve this goal: planning and presenting special projects; assisting the field through a grants program; conducting fieldwork; and maintaining n archive of documentary materials and resources.

Beginning in 1977, when George Holt organized the Office of Folklife Programs in the Department of cultural Resources, staff focused on projects with statewide significance and impact. Festivals, touring programs, national conferences, school residencies, and documentary sound recordings, film, and videos were produced by Folklife Program staff through the early 1990s. The North Carolina Folk Heritage Award program, which has honored more than one hundred traditional artists, began in 1988. More recently, staff helped organize the blue ridge Heritage Initiative and has overseen planning and implementation of the Blue Ridge music Trails and Cherokee Heritage Trails projects. Staff and contract folklorists have conducted fieldwork to support all of these special projects and sound recordings, photographs and slides, and film and videotape footage are preserved in an office archive.

A grants program—acquired after the folklife staff became part of the North Carolina Arts Council in 1980—has awarded more than one million dollars to support folklife projects in the state. These include such things as heritage tourism development, fieldwork to identify folklife resources, documentary film and sound recording projects, salary support for folklife staff positions in organizations across the state, and general operating support for selected folklife organizations.

During the 1980s, the program operated with three full-time folklife specialist positions and a program assistant. State budget crises and a national debate over government support for arts and humanities in the mid-1990s reduced the program to its current level: two full-time staff folklorists and a program assistant. Current staff priorities include administering the grants program, producing the North Carolina Folk Heritage Awards program, assisting developing organizations such as the North Carolina Pottery Center and the Core Sound Waterfowl Museum, and encouraging communities to draw on their folklife resources to achieve sustainable economic development.